“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” goes the French proverb credited to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s not that a society or person organization cannot be transformed. But such change is often cosmetic or superficial. Reality isn’t altered at the deeper, more profound levels.
Simply examine today’s news feeds. There is conflict in the Middle East; fresh bloodshed in Iraq; a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Africa; upheaval with Russia; political unrest at home; is it 2014, 1985, 1978, 1959, or 1913? Has nothing changed within these geopolitical situations? Of course, everything has changed.
There have been new regimes, new faces, and new promises; the old guard has passed; generations have come and gone; the young and the restless have replaced the traditional and the settled. But the root issues and causes – things like greed, selfishness, sexism, patriarchy, racism, and tribalism, remain untouched.
Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world; but no one thinks of changing himself.” Everything we see in the larger world is a reflection of the individual, human heart. So we can’t begin with the world. We have to begin with our own hearts.
One of the greatest British writers of the 20th century was G.K. Chesterton. My favorite essay of his is a tiny one written to his local newspaper, The London Times. The editors solicited responses from the paper’s readership by asking this question: “What is wrong with the world?” Hundreds of long, verbose letters poured in. Then eminent authors and leading thinkers of the day responded with essays. The shortest and most powerful response to “What is wrong with the world?” came from Chesterton. He wrote: “Dear Sirs, I am.”
If anything about this world is going to change, it will be you, and the change cannot be cosmetic, superficial, or an artificial cover-up. Change must be at the heart, deep within, where our darkness lurks, our transgressions take shelter, and where all our spiritual neurosis is born.
So while I’m quoting Karr, Tolstoy, and Chesterton, I’ll add one more great philosopher to the list. Bob Dylan wrote, “There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’. It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a changin’.” True, but the real battle is on the inside, for if the world is going to change, the change must begin right there.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. Please visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.